Ah, high school–that time of turbulent emotions, assignment deadlines, and lots and lots of free time. In a way, I was once a lot like Mizutani Shizuku, the protagonist for Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. I cared mostly for grades and my student resume. I had my eyes set on the future, and I wanted my student life to appear full and inviting to college recruiters. Unlike Shizuku, I had my fair share of crushes through my four years of high school; I was just too awkward to pursue anyone, many of whom I had known since kindergarten. Past perceptions had me pegged as some kind of man-hater, that little girl who liked to kick boys in the shins. Although my former dislike was a far cry from Shizuku’s indifference, we still shared a growing desire to connect with others. And while she certainly comes a good distance in forming friendships and acknowledging her attractions to Haru, thirteen episodes and the multitude of see-sawing emotions made any sort of closure impossible.
The heart of what makes and breaks this show is its fickle attitude. Not only do the characters sway between hate, love, and disinterest, so, too, does the entire focus of this show. Main lead Shizuku and Haru are hot and cold, and never at the same time. And while this may be somewhat truthful to how young people really are, the lack of forward movement in their relationship makes the wait extremely uncomfortable for an audience. Kimi ni Todoke may have shared a similarly drawn out romance, but at least the two always held their feelings for one another as a priority. As long as that is the case, a future successful relationship is possible. I hold no such illusions for Shizuku and Haru with college looming on the horizon. The one saving grace they may have is Haru’s probable ease in entering the same university as Shizuku, if he decides to pursue her that far.
While the back and forth feelings did nothing for romance, it did well enough in the realm of comedy. Haru on his own was amusing to watch, and I could understand why Yamaken found it worth his while to hang out with the people he does. Unfortunately, none of my questions about Haru were answered, and as such I had a hard time supporting him and Shizuku as a couple. It didn’t help that his explosive temper sometimes made him lash out at the people he should have been protecting. I’m not sure if the anime wanted the physical violence to be humorous, but I didn’t find it funny in the slightest.
It’s the nature of high school rom-coms like these to flit between different characters, and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun isn’t an exception. A good amount of time is spent on friend Natsume’s character, a pretty, sweet girl with the social exuberance of a puppy. Her bubbly personality does her well in winning the affections of males and, in turn, the jealousy and dislike of females. In hunger for closer connections with others, she has created an online personality for herself through a blog and various websites. She finds relative joy both in her new found friendships with Shizuku, Haru, and Sasayan, and in her online persona. Yet the disconnect between the two worlds makes what’s missing all the more painful. What she wants more than anything else is someone guaranteed to stay by her side; it’s no surprise that she looks to the older (by four years) “Mitty”, Haru’s father-like cousin.
Natsume’s more colorful personality and familiar young worries about identity and place were so relatable and enjoyable to follow that her story, which was amped up at the end, became more interesting than Shizuku and Haru’s. While I do think development in side characters is always a good thing, there’s a certain extant that a series should take when considering the episode count. Thirteen episodes was not enough to stalemate on the main couple and suddenly switch over to a new one and feel like a complete story.
What this anime needs more than anything else to redeem it’s sorry excuse for an ending is a sequel, or at the very least, a few extra episodes to both create some agreement between Shizuka and Haru as well as finish what was started in Natsume’s storyline. Does Mi-chan/Mitty return her affections, do the clamorers get their wish granted for her and Sasayan, or does she go full love-love for Mizutani? I’m not sure how much will be revealed in the upcoming OVA (to air in January of 2013), but unless it’s the length of a movie, just the one addition won’t be enough to finish what was started.